Alone or Lonely?

Ever wondered about the words alone and lonely? I have been fascinated by them for many years. In fact the words have provided me hours of rumination. I like being alone but am never lonely when I am by myself. Actually it is not as contradictory as it sounds.

Alone is a physical condition while lonely is a mental one. We can be lonely in the company of others, in a group or even in a crowd, but we need not necessarily be lonely when we are alone. It is how we relate to others that makes us either lonely or otherwise. If that were so, how can I be alone and not lonely? Well, it is elementary. I am not lonely because I have company to keep me engaged – my own!

Get the drift? If you want others to enjoy being with you, you should know how to enjoy being with yourself. Look at it this way: If I can’t stand myself, how can I expect others to? So when people ask me whether I don’t get lonely when I am alone at home, especially with the brats having homes of their own and the L&M travelling on work, I can only feel amused. There are so many things I can do through the day – not all chores — that I sometimes am short of time! So where is the question of being lonely? This is not to say that I don’t enjoy having people around me. I love that too. But from time to time I need to be with myself, to connect with myself. Sometimes I need to be physically alone to achieve this state, but it is not always necessary. I can even snatch moments for myself in a day packed with other people and activities. The trick is to remember to do this when I am not angry or upset, because at such times, I don’t relate to myself in a positive way.

I remember my mother advising us not to continuously lift or play with infants and babies in the family lest they start demanding constant attention as they grow. While it is not safe to leave them out of sight for any length of time, one can still keep an eye on them being in the same room, talking to them and letting them see one around. That effectively prevents them from getting scared or doing something dangerous when left unsupervised.  I am sure she must have followed this rule while we were growing up because all of us siblings are happy being by ourselves if need be. By contrast when the older one was a child, my mother-in-law would feel sorry him for playing alone, (though he was quite happy doing it). I would have to assure her that he was fine and that she should leave him alone for a while, much to her chagrin! Today I am glad that both the boys enjoy their own company as much as they do that of their dear ones and friends.

I have seen people getting restless when they are alone – not due to any insecurity or fear of being alone, but because they cannot function when they are not with others. And when such people are forced to be alone, they can go to pieces or into depression. This includes the old and the young and even the very young. But when someone wants company 24×7, it sort of gets a little claustrophobic for the companion. Her I should mention that some actually prefer being alone to being in the company of others but it could be because they don’t like being around people. This post is not about such people.

This ability is as necessary when one is young as when one gets old. However when one is really old and is need of attention, they need supervision too – just like the infants and babies who need to be reassured that they are not alone. This is both an emotional and a security need. Unfortunately we can see this kind of neglect today in many houses where both small children and old people are the victims. Why don’t we take relationships seriously and give them the kind of attention they deserve, including the one we have with ourselves?

I am often asked as to how I feel about the younger one going on long solo bike trips. As a parent I do worry about his safety while on the highways but being someone who loves to be alone periodically, I can fully understand and appreciate his need for such breaks. In fact, I envy him the ability to take off like that! The only thing I ask him is to keep me posted about his whereabouts.

The joys of doing something solo has to be experienced and not recounted. It is very personal, something that can touch one deeply and leave a wonderful and lasting impression. Like the time I spent in Rishikesh some years ago – alone but in a crowd. I felt like a drop of water on a lotus leaf, there, but not stuck to it. I talked to the pilgrims and those who came on a holiday, the shopkeepers and all the others with whom I interacted through the day. But I was alone with myself. No one knew anything about me and the offices of the ashram had other details like my name and address – but that was about it. I never for a moment felt lonely, for I had designated the time for myself and reveled in it. I ate when I felt hungry, slept when I was sleepy and the rest of the time sat by the river or in the temple. A complete disconnect from my normal world. At the end of it, I had become calmer, someone who could see things in a different perspective, more tolerant and generally able to deal with things more firmly – in short, a better person. This is what they accomplish in retreats and meditation camps don’t they?

And since I am comfortable in my own company, I enjoy the company of others – a lot! On that note, I say goodbye to 2011, this being the last post of this year, where I have pulled out all stops to nag the hell out of you all!

HAVE A GREAT NEW YEAR FOLKS!

72 comments

  1. Insightful read Zephyr. I think, being alone and being lonely is something that a person chooses. Being alone can be due to circumstances. but being lonely is more of an emotional choice – you choose to feel lonely because you think you are. you can have the choice to call friends, do something wild, meet someone new, both are choices, and you don’t have to feel lonely, if you don’t want to be. Being alone is doing things by yourself, but also doing them for yourself.You can always find company in yourself.

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    1. Wow! you have said it all so well, Rajee! Being alone is a choice but being lonely is also a choice and while the former can be a happy condition because one can find company in oneself as you have said, while loneliness can make one sad and depressed.

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  2. I am pretty late, for the comments, but I want to say it. I understand, that being alone and enjoying is a must for me. I agree with you.

    In another context, as retired persons, people ask me and my husband, how do we spend time?. I am appalled. I don’t have time to do the things I want to! My bucket list is looooong.

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    1. Late or not, your comment is welcome 🙂 Yes, I face that question too: ‘How can you live away from your children and grandchild?’ I tell them that they would want me out of their hair if I stayed with them 😀 More seriously, I have too many things I want to do too. I have started playing the veena after a gap of nearly 35 years! I guess for people to be busy one has to watch TV and meddle in the affairs of their children LOL

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  3. When I first went to live by myself abroad for higher studies, I was told that it would be like being married to yourself. Would you like it? Hate it? Enjoy it? Get sick of it? All depending on perspective.
    That was where I learnt to strike a balance between enjoying one’s own space…as well as others’ company. I feel there should be a healthy mix of both.

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    1. Right on. unless we mix both the versions of company, we will be boring people — to others and of course to ourselves. And as you say, it is a matter of perspective, one which had better be good 🙂

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  4. This article is on a topic which even I have thought about & both me and my mom have talked about. You have put it quite correctly. One can be alone or lonely. Being alone is a need, a requirement in different times of our life, but it is really sad if one is lonely.

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    1. You have put it so beautifully: being alone is a need but being lonely is sad. Thank God I can be alone but never lonely or sad. 🙂

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  5. […] Eve. But this is something I had to do, I knew I would explode otherwise. Mom put it well in her blog; which I reckon was inspired by my solo […]

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  6. Loved your posts – i was an only child and i never really got the “are u lonely” questions – nope, i had my friends, folks and my imagination. I pretty much like being with me and i dont mind at all when the Tall one is traveling. Much as i like the man i married, i like the living for me and doing as i please. pretty cool i say!

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  7. Oh, I can relate to you when you say that you enjoy your own company. Lovely post.

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    1. That means you do too, but with growing twins on hand can’t find the time to be, right? 😀

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  8. I don’t feel lonely when alone. That is the time to explore, the way one want to.

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    1. To do that you have to feel comfortable with yourself. Else, we will not be able to introspect.

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  9. Happy new year Cyber Nag!

    Its so awesome to fill up your day with so many things, that you don’t have the time to feel lonely. Besides, being lonely is only a state of mind.

    Over the past year, I’ve realised that life throws challenges at you, which you’ll need to tackle. More often than not, you think the only option you have is to brood, and keep thinking that something wrong happened to you. I’d say the smarter thing to do is to fill your day up with so many things, that you stop having time to feel lonely and afraid.

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    1. Your method of beating the blues is perfect. And know what? when you leave some problem alone, it will solve itself or you will come up with a solution than if you constantly brood over it. That’s what they mean when they say, ‘sleep over it’. But there is the danger of carrying the being alone thing a little too far and shunning social interaction of any kind because one loves being with oneself. Moderation is the key.

      wish you a great year ahead too!

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  10. I can so relate to your post zephyr…..
    I never felt lonely or bored being by myself and wondered why people are surprised regarding how I pass my time whole day by myself, since I’m a stay home person ! ‘What do you do the whole day ?’, I’m asked umpteen times. Though it’s difficult for me to recount the activities I indulge in hour by hour, I know I’m quite happy doing whatever I’m doing, never feeling that the time’s hanging on me !
    Loved your post !
    Happy New Year to you too !

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    1. I remember asking you that too — not realising that you are like me too, remember? 🙂 I too have to assure people that I could do with a couple of hours more in a day (not night, mind you 😀 ) to be able to do more of the things that I would like to do. Where is the time to get bored eh? Wish you and Agam a great 2012!!

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  11. You are the Bodhi tree of Indian Blogosphere and we your shishyas.

    Soaked in each and every word of your wisdom

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    1. Hey Purba, I suppose this is said tongue-in-cheek, in the true A-Musing style? 😀

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  12. A lovely post! Kept nodding my head as I agreed on all points!

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    1. Glad you identified with the post, Rahul 🙂

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  13. thank u for sharing this…

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    1. You are welcome Shveta 🙂

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  14. Loved the title – alone but not lonely – very profound indeed. Till a few years back, I never realized that I can be alone but not lonely (of course without TV or a book etc to keep me engaged) but now I think I have come to realize that I can enjoy my own company. And if you enjoy your own company, you enjoy the company of others even more as at that point it is a choice right, to be in their company and doesn’t come out of desperation 🙂

    Wishing you a good 2012 as well.

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    1. You know what? if you can’t be alone, even having the TV or reading a book won’t keep you engaged and happy. you’d still be looking for company 🙂 So it is just a matter of time before you learn to be alone and enjoy yourself. you are so right about choosing to be in company instead of being in desperate need of it! Hope you are having a great time during the holidays. 😀

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      1. Very true – before I could stay alone provided I have company in books / TV but now I enjoy the silence around me – talk about maturity 🙂

        Holidays has been good but it is all over and now, its back to the grind.

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        1. All good things come to an end. sigh! And yes,we mature with age and become wiser 😀

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  15. This was such a calming post…..

    Wish you and yours a super 2012!!

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    1. Thank you Deepak! Wish you a very happy new year too. Going to meet Prema and Raghu today, thanks to you 🙂

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  16. It’s true some people enjoy being alone, but there are many who always need someone around. Wish you and your family a very happy new year!

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    1. Wish you a very happy new year too Giribala!

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  17. Your post reminded me of an osho talk I’ve heard, I sometimes feel I cannot be alone and go into overdrive doing things that I often regret..In the past few months, I’ve learnt to be comfortable with myself..Great post..maybe sometime even I’ll travel alone!

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    1. I have seen that kind of activity in the L&M too. He is one of those who needs people around him. The yin and yang — that’s what we are 😀 But it is wonderful that you are able to find your inner self but do seize the chance to travel alone when you get it. It is elevating. Happy new year, Keerthana!

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  18. Couldnt agree more with you on this! 🙂 I’ve been staying by myself for over a year now and when people talk to me, they either pity me for some weird reason or ask me how I don’t get bored! Considering the few hours I get for myself after work, and that I am never at home during weekends.. Its strange that people wonder if I get bored alone when I absolutely enjoy the free time I get by doing things I like! 🙂

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  19. What you have said Zephyr is one of my philosophies in life. One should be able to be content with one’s own company. And that is the best company you will have. The calm, peace and joy that you feel when you are alone is much more real and long lasting because it is intrinsic. You don’t need to depend on others for happiness or anything for that matter. It is the ultimate independence.

    It is in fact one of the goals that I want my son to achieve to be happy even when alone. My parents as well my in laws always keep telling me that my son must be feeling lonely because he has no one to play with and he is just stuck with me alone. But this I believe is a blessing in disguise. From what I have observed, he is at his best when left alone and I encourage it. My husband on the other hand needs people around him which is fine and expected during festival times and family get togethers that take place back in India, but one must be able to enjoy and be content with just ourselves.

    Wishing you and your family a great new year!! Enjoy! 🙂

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    1. I liked the way you have analysed the reason for the joy one feels when being alone. You are doing the right thing by encouraging your son to be happy by himself. But one must take care to see that he also enjoys being with others just as much. The L&M is one of those who constantly needs someone around him. He wilts when left alone 🙂 You have a great year too,Maddie 🙂

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  20. Alkagurha · · Reply

    Very well articulated. More and more people these days cherish their solitude. I am addicted to mine and so is my son. Sometimes during family marriages, it becomes odd. After some fun and frolic I start looking for some space, alone. However I do not enjoy traveling alone. Then it becomes lonely……Wish u a very happy new year. Love and hugs

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    1. As I replied to another comment, there are activities which are nicer done with people. Unlike you, I love travelling alone, especially in a train, when you feel one with the landscape, train and tracks — almost like a zen story 🙂 Wish you a happy new year too dear. Hugs right back 😀

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  21. I couldn’t agree with you more. When I shifted to Mumbai after marriage,people would keep asking me, what do you do the whole day. They pitied me for the fact that I had no friends or relatives nearby to give me company or to help me with something. I found that quite amusing.
    I always enjoyed my own company a lot. I liked doing solo things, like going on rides alone, reading, writing poems more than being in a group. I never felt insecure or left out, and I think in a way it helped me connect with me more.
    A very Happy New Year to you too Aunty! 🙂

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    1. LOL the poor neighbours were so worried about you and you didn’t bother with their concern? Tsk tsk 😀 When you are happy doing things by yourself, only the best will come out of it. Put Arush on that track from now itself. 🙂 Happy new year to you and your family Varsha!

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  22. I am so glad that I am not the only one who feels this way! People do wonder what it is that I do by myself at home. I guess now I can tell them that “I like my own company”. I have nothing against parties or friends and gatherings, it’s just I love my me-time. 🙂

    I have spent a few weeks in Ayurvedic retreats(read treatments) in Kerala myself. So I know exactly what you mean by becoming a better person. I think I rediscovered myself in those weeks that I spent with myself. 🙂

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    1. Parties and gatherings are fine in their places, but what we need from time to time is some time to be with ourselves. Ayurveda retreats sound wonderful and physically relaxing as much as mentally rejuvenating. Have a great year 🙂

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  23. For me it has been like a pendulum sometimes going crazy as am alone especially now that I have a WFH role and otherwise there have so many parties where i would have been so lonely.
    But as you rightly said being alone does not automatically constitute to being lonely because I always come out of the being lonely when am alone phase very fast because of so many things you can discover about yourself.
    As usual a wonderful thought to end the year with it….and waiting for you to nag again the coming years:-)
    A very Happy New Year to you too.

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    1. You have said it! those who are comfortable being alone can come out of bad phases quicker. It is also a never ending quest of self discovery and improvement consequently. Take care of yourself and brace yourself for more nagging in 2012. Enjoy a wonderful year dear 🙂

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  24. Aabha Midha · · Reply

    I too like to spend time with myself. And you are abs right that you enjoy being with others as you are happy being on your own.

    A very happy New Year to you and family Zephyr:)

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    1. Thank you Abha and wish you a very happy new year too! And my we all enjoy a lot of me-time in the coming year 🙂

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    2. Unless we can get well with ourselves, how can we do so with others? Right? Happy new year, Abha!

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  25. Thoughtful post, Zephyr. Nice attitude- “If I can’t stand myself, how can I expect others to?”

    It’s the same for me. I’m almost never lonely when I’m alone. Though for some things- like seeing a film- I prefer to be with a companion.

    Looking forward to more nagging from you in the New Year! Happy New Year!

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    1. I am a social animal too, but I love my time and space fiercely. There are some activities that needs to be done with others like watching a movie aren’t there? Thank for encouraging me to nag. Be careful lest you regret it 😀 Happy new year!

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  26. Thank God, there are people who understand the difference between alone and lonely and will not term me a psycho if I tell them I enjoy going for long walks alone or sitting in a coffee shop with a book for hours and would much rather be alone than be nagged to talk!
    Wish you and your family a wonderful new year. Bring on the tales in 2012!
    Richa

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    1. Going by all the comments here, there are many many people who like being by themselves. I love being with and around people, make no mistake but when I need to be alone, I make time for that even when I am in company 🙂 More nagging will come in the coming year, have no fear 😀 Happy new year to you and your family!

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  27. Nice musings on the year end. It seems the weather in Bangalore is reflecting your thoughts.

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    1. Hey, I am a Delhiite, now in Mumbai. But yes, it is a benign time of the year and makes one feel good. Happy new year!

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      1. I thought you are Jabalpurian. If so many places which you wanted to settle are taken into account, it might include several Indian cities!! If you are considering the latest ‘temporarily permanent place’ as your place, then Delhiite is the right expression. A question of definition like ‘lonely and alone’.

        You are right about mother telling us not to lift baby all the while. Those days there were many children for parents plus joint family would have many children of same age group and hence it would have been difficult to carry the same child always! Perhaps that practice would have prompted mother to say what she used to say about lifting child. These days the family size is small and there is no diversion from one child and that explains why we carry the same child always!!

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        1. That’s what makes life interesting, though sometimes a little tiring, isn’t it? The reasoning behind not lifting a child is to let them learn being alone, isn’t it? After all, habits are formed in childhood. I am glad of that theory because it has made me enjoy my solitude. Happy new year!

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  28. I enjoy being alone; there is so much to do. But there are some who cannot and then there are some who cannot understand how can I be alone and yet be happy.

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    1. Exactly. They keep asking me, ‘How can you stay alone? Don’t you feel bored?’ 😀

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  29. I am shy, but yes I do enjoy my own company… I love myself the way I am, for what I am and that helps me love and respect others too. I have had many such moments – me with myself – on many of my yatra occasions.. sitting besides the river, sunrises and sunsets.. they do help you go deep, to ponder and see life through a completely different lens. They surely have taught me a lot more, of my own self, of others too.. that no piles of books or any pravachans or lectures by anyone ever can!

    I can feel how much you must have enjoyed your Rishikesh trip… I read this post twice and will reread once again after this comment.

    …And Keep nagging, we cant live without’ em! Happy New Year to the entire Zephyr Family! 🙂

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    1. Thank you Arti! I am itching to go again on my own, only I don’t know when I will be able to. So I make do with small doses of me-time at home and outside. 🙂 You certainly must be comfortable with yourself, for you are very warm with others. Wish you and your family a very happy new year too! And don’t worry, I have no plans to quit nagging…yet 😀

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  30. Hello Aunty…

    Here I am. Back, commenting. I am not commenting because we just met a few days ago, but because unlike your past posts, this one did ring a bell in my mind.

    The phrase “alone in a crowd” is not ironic, but profound. (I am going at a tangent from your definition and using alone & lonely as partly synonymic – whichever word feels right I am using it there)

    One may be at a party with hundreds, or in a meeting with many, or on a bus/train journey with scores, but unless you are at peace with yourself, you will not be able to reach out to others and not be alone. If I have had a bad day, I amy not crave the company of others, but am there for some reason – I can be alone then. Not lonely.

    I feel that being at peace with oneself is the precursor to stop being lonely. But that does not mean that you will not feel lonely when no one is around you. You are feeling extremely joyful – and want to spread this gaeity with someone – and if no one is around – are you not alone & lonely? Who will you spread the joy with?

    With me, I perform best when I am left to my own devices. I have never needed the constant attention, the wanting someone to talk to, that my sister always demanded off my mother. Even now, when my sister was in Canada with her husband who was deputed there, the two would talk for hours everyday on any and all topics under the sun. Thank God ISD rates are now similar to local calls, else I’d have had to rig up a Skype connection separate for them.

    Me: Leave me alone even during a party and I’ll zone out. I may well have been the heart of the party but if the mood strikes, I’ll just walk out and go it alone.

    Thanks for reading the ramble.

    Regards.

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    1. The best thing about me-time is you can choose when you want it,because if it is thrust on you, it is no more me-time, is it? So I would spread all the happiness I feel before settling in for some quiet me-time. See?

      you have pretty much echoed what I have written. So I have written something worth reading, is it? Your indictment of ‘unlike past posts’ condemns, convicts and hangs me and my writing ability 😦

      But what the heck, it is new year’s eve so no sad faces 😀

      Wish you a happy new year!

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      1. ” ” Your indictment of ‘unlike past posts’ condemns, convicts and hangs me and my writing ability 😦 ” ”
        To this statement I plead this in defence: It is not a matter of your writing ability. It is a matter of my connectivity. Unfortunately, I have set my field to such a limited set that not all your posts connect well with me. That is not a call on your ability is it? A funnel can absorb only as much water as it is set wide – that is not a call on the tap that is disbursing the flow.

        One of the points to note is that my option of loneliness is not about emotion – joy or sadness. It is a matter of what your state of mind is – whether you want to be alone or not. The only disconnect is – You want to be with someone and have to be lonely – this is the only time when it hurts. Else, you are joyful.

        Apologies if my words created some sort of disconnect in you – that was not my intention.

        Happy New Year to you & the L&M. Do pass on my wishes to the older one & his family – the younger one is in touch.

        Regards.

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        1. Hey, I am not at all upset despite the sad emoticon! Too seasoned and old for that 🙂 As I have said, the me-time has to be voluntarily chosen and enjoyed and of course loneliness can happen when you are separated from someone you love — again not by choice. This post is about being comfortable with oneself and as you have noted being alone is joyful except in certain conditions.

          Feel free to drop in any time, Harshal. Don’t let my nagging put you off posts that you can connect with, ok?

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  31. Hmmm… a thought-provoking post as always. Being quite reserved and shy, I enjoy my own company. While I am not anti-social, large groups and gatherings do make me withdraw mentally. And yet, in spite of all this I had never mustered the courage to travel alone till earlier this year. And like Ruchira says, it was a life-altering experience. I maintain that till one has travelled alone, one does not really know oneself. 🙂

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    1. I can understand the out-of-it feeling in large gatherings. I used to feel that way till I realised that a gathering is made of many single persons and concentrate on them instead of being intimidated by the whole crowd. I have yet to travel alone the way Ruchira and you have. Wonder when I will find my own ‘life-altering’ experience 😀

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  32. I love spending time with myself — reading, writing, listening to music or ruminating. I can find my solitude even in a room full of people. But for social events or parties, I prefer to have a companion or at least know someone. I feel that the relationship and happiness that I share with myself is the most important of all my relationships. I enjoy meditating too. I think this is a very interesting and thought provoking post!

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    1. Of course we all would like a group or companion in a party. After all, it IS a party, isn’t it? 😀 You have said it perfectly — the most important relationship we have is with ourselves. Glad you liked it Rachna 🙂

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  33. and you sound like my mom again..she doesnt mind being alone any time…I am not like that…I need people around me..or at least books..leave me alone with a pile of books and a packet of chips and I can stay there like for ever..but otherwise, I doubt I can be alone..my ma on the other hand, loves being alone..the ‘me’time she thinks is great…well to each his own

    Wishing you a super duper new year!!!

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    1. Even being able to read and be alone is fine. Some people need someone around even if they want to read 🙂 There are times RM, when we NEED to be by ourselves to feel sane. Wish you a great new year too!

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  34. You know, I travelled through UK and Canada solo this summer and believe me it was an experience I’ll always cherish. It was a mini life altering experience. Like you I really cherish my solitude and need to have some alone time each day or I just get cranky!
    A very happy new year to you and your family cybernag 🙂

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    1. That must have been wonderful! you are right about life-altering experiences. Some of them can sure do and even if the don’t actually ‘alter; it, the impact can be profound. Wish you a very happy new year too!

      Like

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